October 24, 2010

Could we have avoided the crisis if Mandelbrot had gone to Basel?

Sir Christopher Caldwell writes how the recently deceased Benoit Mandelbrot “zeroed in on the besetting flaw [with financial] models that understated risk” and references The (Mis)behaviour of Markets a book that Mandelbrot co-authored with Richard L. Hudson in 2004, “Mandelbrot tips of the market”, October 23.

I do not have sufficient memory to recall it but it is very possible that it was the referenced book that, in October 2004, as an Executive Director of the World Bank, made me make a formal written statement that contained: “We believe that much of the world’s financial markets are currently being dangerously overstretched through an exaggerated reliance on intrinsically weak financial models that are based on very short series of statistical evidence and very doubtful volatility assumptions.”

The world could have benefitted incredibly from ascertaining the presence of skeptics like Mandelbrot at the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision. I am absolutely sure he would have been horrified at what its members were up to managing risks with truly faulty models and conceptions of the reality and tried his utmost to stop their regulatory nonsense in time.

But since even after its evident failure, the Basel Committee is not going back on anything, but is instead forging ahead and scaling it up, as if nothing has happened, now even wanting to tackle cyclicality and systemic risk, it is most likely that Mandelbrot would not have been heard at all by the self-sufficient scheming high-priests of the regulatory establishment.